The more things change, the more they stay the same.

For as long as I have been involved in marketing professional services, I have believed that the business that educates most, wins the most.

That was certainly true when the standard approaches to adult education were one-way lectures or speeches and sometimes facilitated group discussions. This belief remains true today when innovations in information technology have moved adult education to new levels of popularity and variety of approaches.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that as an element of the information age, educational messages face the same competition for our clients’ attention as do our marketing messages. As if competition from other service professionals is not enough, virtually every individual or organization that has an online presence offers some kind of educational program. And many of these programs are huge. Take for example, the new concept of a MOOC.

What’s A MOOC?

In case this term is new to you, it means a massive open online course aimed at large-scale interactive participation and open access via the Internet.

Being a big fan of MOOCs, I am currently working on my fifth course through Coursera (a truly awesome educational resource…check it out) along with more than 125,000 other students worldwide. Presented by three Penn State professors, this eight-week course helps us learn about creativity, innovation and creativity with such tools and aids as videos, readings and problem sets. And as an added bonus, it helps build a community for the students, professors, teaching assistants and others interested in the topic.

As is always the case, we can learn from our competitors whether they are large organizations that offer one or more MOOCs world wide or the service professional down the street trying to attract the same clients as we are.

From MOOC to  SSOOC

Based on my experience with MOOCs, there is no reason that as service professionals we can’t start and maintain our own small scale versions of MOOCs. Let’s call our versions SSOOCs… Small Scale Open Online Courses.

Three factors that contribute to the success of MOOCs also apply to SSOOCs.

  1. content relevant to individual learners
  2. material presented by experts
  3. engaging tools and techniques

Without question, these factors are as relevant to my client-focused educational services as they are to yours.

Similarly, the same technological innovations that have led to the popularity of growth of MOOCs can be applied, albeit on a smaller scale, to my SSOOC and yours.

Here’s the clincher. The single factor that distinguishes the three Penn State professors presenting my current MOOC from University of Pennsylvania prof who conducted my first MOOC has little, if anything, to do with their respective universities. It’s all about the unique skills and experience of each individual professor that distinguishes him or her from all others.

From a marketing perspective, it is personal branding that one SSOOC from all others.

In other words, your SSOOC offers a new vehicle by which you can communicate to your market what distinguishes you from the competition and how this difference delivers value to clients.

It really is true that the business that educates most, wins the most. To learn more, take a MOOC and apply the same engaging tools and techniques to your SSOOC.

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Summertime Marketing?

June 21, 2013

Happy solstice.

Worldwide, interpretation of the solstice has varied among cultures, but most recognize the event in some way with holidays, festivals, and rituals.

Here in the northern hemisphere, it’s the summer solstice. Among our joyful rituals is putting away our winter wear, reasonably confident that for the next few months we can wear lighter summer clothing.

With the coming of summer, we change more than just our clothing: more time outside than inside, special events and festivals, summer hours at the office and so on.

I’ve never really thought about it, but I wonder if our marketing also changes with the shift into summer.

Like our clothing, does it become lighter, less of a burden to us and also the people we expose it to?

Is it like a breath of fresh air, offering a new insight or observation?

Is it rich and alive like the thriving plants outside the window?

I’m not sure, but as I think about marketing, it seems to me that many us continue to grind out the same old messages using the same old approaches. That seems a little unusual while the natural world around us gives off a fresh new energy.

Today those of us in the northern hemisphere, will enjoy the longest day of daylight in the year. Maybe we can take a few minutes away from celebrating the solstice to think about lightening our marketing to better match the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer.

Just a thought.

 

 

A public relations disaster in professional service marketing offers good news and bad news.

The good news is that relative to a PR disaster for a high profile multi-national corporation like Apple, service professionals’ PR disasters are largely ignored outside of our small corners of the world.

In Apple’s case, it has a very large corner of the world and when it messes up…it does it big time. Hard to ignore the fiasco of Apple banning Google Maps from iPhones in September in favor of its own error-riddled maps.

Whoops!

According to businessinsider.com,

“CEO Tim Cook had to issue a public apology, conceding that the maps “fell short” before suggesting users download competitors’ products from the Apps store. Cook specifically called out Bing, MapQuest, or going to Nokia and Google’s website.

“The product manager who oversaw the maps team was fired months later.”

Whoops.

The bad news is that for those of us who run our own business of providing professional services, we don’t have a large organization in which we can hide until people in our market forget about our personal PR disasters. Nor do we have anyone we can blame…and fire.

Yikes!

Quick Escapes

In my case, my biggest PR disaster was the second worst speaking engagement of my career.

Having just completed a study of the best marketing practices of high ranking real estate sales people in the Toronto area, I was invited to share my findings in a presentation at a conference of the sales people at a very large and well-respected independent real estate company. Considering myself more of a facilitative speaker than a lecturer, my plan was to guide the group through the process of identifying the key findings. My contact person at the company liked the concept so we ran with it.

Within 10 minutes of starting, it was obvious my audience was not following my game plan.

When I gave the group a small exercise, a supportive member of the audience suggested that his colleagues had short attention spans and my best approach would have been to just tell them what my findings were so that they could get on with their days.

Switching from my prepared facilitative approach to an unplanned lecture format, the rest of the presentation was…needlessly to say…a total disaster. At the end, it was almost a race to determine who could make the fastest escape…me or the frustrated audience.

But life continues and I survived.

Lessons Learned

Looking back, there are two valuable lessons to be learned.

  1. Better Planning: Had I spent more time learning about what my audience wanted, the disaster could have been avoided. However, as often happens with those of us who provide professional services, when we are asked to share information and advice, our egos get in the way. I knew what they needed to learn and was confident in my plan to help them learn.
  2. Contingency & Risk Planning: Any business activity, such as marketing and public relations, that offers high potential benefits also carries with it the risk of major damage in the event of failure. As part of business and marketing planning, it’s a good idea to think the unthinkable. What are some of the most damaging public relations disasters that might arise?What are the most appropriate damage-controlling responses to these disasters?

The best approach to managing PR disasters to minimize the risk by proper planning.

The next best approach is having a contingency plan in place that sets out damage-controlling responses.

If you are lucky enough to escape disaster, good for you.

If however, you do experience a disaster, better for you. Your plan will minimize damaging fall-out.

10 Things Celebrate Tonight

February 1, 2013

“One big reason to set goals is so when you achieve something significant, you know to celebrate.

“Otherwise we just keep pushing forward, unsatisfied. Feeling like that right now with something and let me tell you, it sucks.”

Those are the words of my Facebook friend Kyle Byron, posted on his time-line a couple of days ago.

Right now, I’m also experiencing that same feeling. With both my latest book and accompanying work book now complete, my next set of goals and a reason to celebrate an achievement seems a long way off. Kyle’s right…it sucks!

To pull myself out of a self-created state of unsatisfaction and also as a public service, here are 10 thing to celebrate tonight.

10. Feb 1, 1788: Isaac Briggs and William Longstreet patented the steamboat.

Without the steamboat how could football fans travel to New Orleans? Cheers to Briggs and Longstreet!

9. February 1, 1940: Frank Sinatra sang “Too Romantic” and “The Sky Fell Down” in his first recording session with the Tommy Dorsey Band.

Always happy to celebrate Frank Sinatra.

8. February 1 1976: “Sonny and Cher” resumed on TV despite a real life divorce.

Let’s celebrate fun music and long lasting relationships.

7. February 1 1994: Jeff Gillooly pled guilty in Portland, OR, for his role in the attack on figure skater Nancy Kerrigan.

Gillooly, Tonya Harding’s ex-husband, struck a plea bargain under which he confessed to racketeering charges in exchange for testimony implicating Harding.

Let’s celebrate our own sanity.

6. February 1, 1994: the American singer Skylar Laine was born.

I’m not familiar with Skylar or his work, so let’s celebrate that his name is the most recent name in Wikipedia’s list of famous people born today.

5. February 1, 2004: Janet Jackson experienced the most famous wardrobe malfunction in history.

For those of us who have ever experienced a wardrobe malfunction, we can celebrate the fact that it wasn’t in front of millions of viewers.

4. The return of NHL hockey

Toronto Maple Leaf fans can celebrate the possibility of the team making the playoffs this year.

3. Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans

What better reason to celebrate than incredible combination of Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans?

Party Hearty!

2. Today is Groundhog Day Eve

For many years, I lived in rural Ontario where Groundhog Day the highlight of the winter.

Every February 2, we eagerly checked to see if Wiarton Willie saw his shadow when he emerged from his burrow.

Tonight, we can celebrate the possibility that this albino groundhog will not see his shadow tomorrow, signaling an early spring. (Update: Willie did not see his shadow, which means an early spring.  Something definitely worth celebrating!)

1. Yesterday, I went on a 1 ½ hour shopping excursion on foot.

Not an act of temporary madness, this was a very deliberate act on my part. Tired of hearing myself complain about the winter weather, I put on my warmest clothes and went to some of my favorite places to get the ingredients for a really nice dinner.

The excursion, covered about 4 kilometres in snow squally Toronto. Had it been in more temperate New Orleans, it would have been about 2 ½ miles and about 30 degrees (Fahrenheit) warmer.

The dinner was fabulous…just like it would have been in New Orleans. It delivered an overload of satisfaction…with the added bonus of an achievement (the walk) to celebrate. Life is good!

Your invitation to celebrate is totally open. Celebrate any of all of these items in any way you choose. If nothing in the list resonates with you, celebrate the good things in your life. It sucks to get dragged down by complaining about the bad ones.

Cheers!

Now that the most expensive election in US history is over, the media has turned its attention to analyzing the process and the results.

One of the more interesting questions is the role played by the massive expenditure on advertising.

Each of the Democratic and Republican parties is reported to have spent about one billion dollars on advertising. And that doesn’t even include the hundreds of millions of dollars spent by so-called Political Action Committees. Now there is a misnomer if ever there was one. In my mind, political action is abut more than just sending money. It’s about taking action such as personal participation in campaigning.

Was President Obama re-elected because his advertising was sufficiently better than that of Mitt Romney to have made the difference on election day? Probably not.

According to CBS News:

“They [Romney’s campaign advisers] misread turnout. They expected it to be between 2004 and 2008 levels, with a plus-2 or plus-3 Democratic electorate, instead of plus-7 as it was in 2008. Their assumptions were wrong on both sides: The president’s base turned out and Romney’s did not. More African-Americans voted in Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina and Florida than in 2008.”

To put a marketing spin on this interpretation, Romney’s campaign advisers misread their market…and the competition. They assumed that the market, and by extension the competition, would act as it had in the past.

What they did not take into consideration was the competition’s actions to increase its share of the votes by getting more supporters to the polling stations. In effect, these actions took the form of reaching out to voters and doing whatever it took to get them out to vote.

It’s worth noting that these actions were more the result of personal participation in the campaign than spending money.

From the perspective of professional service marketing, there are three things that we can learn from the election.

  1. Advertising is not as effective as many people would like to believe.
  2. Throwing lots of money at an issue is not a substitute for focused action.
  3. Direct contact..also known as outreach…can be a very effective way to achieve our goals.

To learn more about outreach as a tool for marketing professional services, see Contacting Potentially Helpful Strangers.